Weaning is NOT about stopping a behaviour - it’s about transitioning from your “all in one” parenting tool to a more nuanced, sophisticated tool box.
When you begin parenting, nature gives you everything you need to parent your child - a boob. It meets nearly 100% of your newborn needs!
As your child ages, this tool continues to support SO many aspects of your parenting - and it’s really simple - just whip out your breast! But, as you move along breastfeeding becomes less convenient for many - your child’s capacity to be supported by other tools widens and the depth of their needs increases.
This means that as you wean, you need to be growing your skill set for recognizing the subtlety of your child’s needs AND adding to the tools that you use to support those needs! BUT! For most breastfeeding parents out there, weaning is about eliminating a behaviour. Advice like “Just drop one feed at a time” or “Wear clothes that cover your breasts: out of sight, out of mind” is EVERYWHERE when it comes to weaning! Here is the trouble: Babies are hardwired to seek out the breast to get their needs met, plain and simple. Toddlers & older kids too! They aren’t breastfeeding because it’s a “habit” or something they have associated with a certain chair in your home. It’s not always because they are hungry or thirsty either, so swapping mommy milk for a snack isn’t any guarantee that they will stop asking for it. Sure, you *can* treat breastfeeding as a behaviour and work to eliminate it, and many do! But, that comes with it’s own challenges: #1) It makes parenting in the moment HARDER! #2) It undermines your long-term parenting goals
#3) Your child learns to distrust their own needs
#1) It makes it harder to parent in the moment.
You have lost your “all in one” parenting tool! And, unless you are actively working to acquire new tools and learn all the nuances of when they are needed and how to use them, you are going to be left with whatever tools you have picked up unconsciously from your own parents and the world around you. And for the majority of us, that is a rusted wrench and a broken screw driver. And when you have a finishing nail that needs to be delicately tapped into place, you are going to find yourself whacking at it with a wrench and cause some serious damage. This kind of damage is noticeable right away, but, if whacking nails with wrenches is what you have seen everyone else do, you probably aren’t going to be aware of what the cause is.
To bring the metaphor home, when you hand your 2 year old a cheese stick in place of a breastfeed, but what they really need support in shifting their nervous system states, you are going to find a child who is off the wall bonkers an hour later and be scratching your head as to why.
#2) It doesn’t support your long term parenting goals
You have breastfed 12 months (or 2 years, or 5 years.) I know you started with the intention to give your child the BEST start in life that you could! And it is so true that breastfeeding is incredibly supportive for ALL parts of your child’s development. But when weaning is viewed as the process of taking away breastfeedings, you miss the opportunity to practice new tools and slowly build up your skillset. This means that you limp along coping with that rusted wrench and broken screw driver, until the needs & problems are too big for them and now you have to learn other tools when the stakes are a lot higher. When weaning is viewed through a parenting lens it’s about weaning *ON* to other tools. Weaning becomes an incredible opportunity to practice and slowly transition to more sophisticated methods of parenting! Would you rather practice supporting your child’s development of emotion regulation with toddler tantrums (knowing you can use a breast as a tool now and then as you learn) OR would you rather learn how to support it when they are teenagers and they can drive a car?
#3) Your child doesn’t learn to value their own needs.
As a breastfed child, being fed “on demand” means that they are relatively in control of sensing their own needs and advocating for them to be met. (ie - feeling hunger pangs and crying for mom!). When breastfeeding is viewed as a habit and not as a wise strategy to get their needs met, the underlying need for the breastfed isn’t met. The child has always cued for mom to have their needs met and now they are cueing and the underlying need isn’t being met. They don’t have the words or insight to understand this, but the implicit message is “you can’t trust your body”. Their body tells them to breastfeed, they ask and are refused - without a loving caregiver who can skillfully decipher the underlying need and support them to get that met without breastfeeding, they learn that what their body communicates to them is wrong.
Here's the deal: the conventional thoughts around weaning don't produce the type of parenting relationship that most breastfeeding families are looking for - one full of safety, security and connection. Changing over to the counter-cultural view that breastfeeding IS parenting is key to seeing weaning as an up-leveling process instead of a dreaded period to "get through" and utilizing it for all of the beauty and grace that biology intended!
Next week I'll deep dive into *why* we have this struggle and offer some practical ways to move through it! Until then, I have a great support that I created just for you called "The 3 B's of Communication" which is a handbook for finding ways to say "no" to a breastfeed while *STILL* saying yes to the underlying need. You can grab it for free right here! Did you love this post? Have something to add? Shoot me a DM on Instagram! I'd love to chat!